The New Classic: Lemon-Syrup Loaf Cake

A life without cake isn’t one worth living. Sorry clean eaters and strict dieters.

I knew that when this long weekend that’s just passed came up that I was going to make a cake, irregardless of how poor I currently am (or that I’d just finished a Delia marmalade cake which I managed to burn the sugar top but still tasted good). I simply reached for the nearest cookbook (which just happened to be in my room instead of the bookshelf), which happened to be Nigella Lawson’s How To Be a Domestic Goddess, and just flicked through the cake chapter until I found one that I had everything in for or at least could make substitutions. A couple were considered but I decided that I hadn’t made or eaten a lemon cake in a long time.

Now for the ultimate making a virtue out of necessity – I had no granulated or caster sugar in, I’ve been working my way through a bag of preserving sugar (it’s just white sugar but with larger crystals) from abandoned jam-making plans  – using it in recipes that call for demerara for crunch etc, so I decided to blitz it in the blender until it was ground fine enough to bake with. Sugar is sugar and why go to the shop when I could just spend a few minutes running the blender?  If you aren’t a skinflint and do have granulated sugar handy, no need for this. I’m just writing what I did! And it worked, though when initially creaming it with the fat, there was still a bit of grit going on. Undetectable in the finished cake. I had just enough icing sugar buried in the cupboard to make the 100g for the syrup.

I also used plain flour with baking powder in lieu of the self raising flour (HANDY TIP! If you also have no SR flour in, add 2 tsp of baking powder to every 150g plain flour instead!), and Waitrose’s essential Olive Spread (they seem to have stopped selling essential sunflower but the olive is only £1.10 a tub so not that much more expensive) instead of butter – it said suitable for baking on the tub, so no issue. It’s important you check this as not all spreads can be used in baking as especially the ‘light’ ones will contain a lot of water. Recipe also stated large eggs, I had mixed sizes as they’re cheapest, and again, didn’t need extra liquid.

I’d say use a deeper 2lb loaf tin than I did, as I had a slight eruption of batter (luckily I had a baking tray directly underneath the tin so I ended up with a single lemony rock bun in addition to the loaf), and the lemons I had were cheap small ones that didn’t zest well so I used the zest of two, but kept to the 1.5 listed for the syrup as they still gave a hell of a lot of juice.

This cake might not be massively voluminous but is still incredibly light and citrussy – frankly it is just what you need. Unpretentious, but heavy with sharp lemon without being overwhelming – I suppose it is just a lemon drizzle cake in all but name, without the un-necessary icing.  I call this an adaptation rather than my own recipe. It’s cake. It’ll make the world feel like a safer place when you eat it.

Lemon Syrup Loaf Cake

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For the cake:
125g olive spread  – or indeed any spread you like, just make sure it says ‘suitable for baking’ on the tub.

175g preserving sugar, ground as finely as you can in the blender – or granulated/caster.

2 eggs

Zest 1 regular lemon or 2 smaller, older ones (as I had)

175g plain flour

2 1/4 tsp baking powder

Pinch salt

4 tbsp milk

For the syrup:
Juice 1 1/2 lemons (about 4 tbsp/half a cup – 60ml)

100g icing sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 180C/gas 4/160C fan; grease and line a 2lb/900g loaf tin with a sheet of baking parchment, leaving it hanging over the sides to make it easier to lift out later.
  2. Cream the olive spread and the ground-down sugar, for at least 5 minutes (a tip I picked up off The Kitchn or Food 52 ages ago), the sugar will still have some grit but don’t worry about it – if you used ordinary sugar, then obviously ignore what I just said as you’ll have no need to worry.
  3. Add in the eggs and lemon zest, beating them in well.
  4. Mix the baking powder and salt into the flour before adding gradually to the mix, folding gently but thoroughly, and then finally, the milk.
  5. Spoon and scrape into the prepared tin and place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden and risen (It’ll sink a little on cooling) and a cake tester comes out clean.
  6. Whilst the cake is baking, get on with the syrup – place the icing sugar and lemon juice into a small and heat gently until the sugar is fully dissolved.
  7. As soon as the cake is out of the oven, puncture the top of it numerous times with your cake testing implement. Pour over the syrup, making sure to let the middle get a good dose of it as well as the drier edges, and leave to soak in. Make sure you absolutely douse it and use every last bit of the syrup! Don’t even TRY to take it out of the tin until it is completely cold, as it’ll be sodden with syrup and will crumble apart.
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Tried And Tested: Victoria Sandwich

You might think I’m extracting buckets of urine here by daring to post a recipe for such a well known British classic, but as any discerning cook knows, there is no one great single authentic recipe for any dish, regardless of what the WI might say.

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The Victoria sandwich has been an integral part of British culture since the 19th century (when baking powder was invented) and indeed every known food writer has offered up their take on this simple yet universally-popular cake. I’ve not met one person who doesn’t like it. There is really no way you can eff it up. Though I’ve never understood why people like to put fresh cream in these as it means you have to keep it in the fridge which dries out the sponge, which is the main event here.  But that’s just me.

The Vicky Sponge is notoriously sensitive to cooking time and oven temperature. So much so that it’s used by oven manufacturers to test their products’ effectiveness. Oven too hot? Cake will either burn, rise dramatically and then sink. Oven too cool? Won’t cook properly and you risk overdoing the outside and leaving the centre raw. An oven thermometer is ideal and you only need to know this:

Fan oven: 160C

Electric oven: 180C

Gas oven: Gas Mark 4

And you bake for 25 minutes max.

There’s so many different ways to get the ideal lightness – some writers replace a small amount of the flour with cornflour; others use plain flour and add extra baking powder; others only use the traditional creaming method…the list goes on and I won’t bore you with all of this now.

The best advice I’ve ever read and it’s the one I’m passing on to anyone who’ll listen; and it comes direct from the WI who are fiendishly draconian on their Victorias….weigh your eggs in their shells; make a note of the weight – this is how much fat, sugar and self-raising flour you’ll need. 7 inch sandwich tins use 3 eggs, 8 inch (like mine), use 4. Any size eggs you like.

Anyway, enough waffle. I’ve made countless Victorias over the years…and I’ve broken the rules numerous times….I’ve gone with gourmet butter, regular butter, margarine, Bertolli spread, Flora…if it says ‘suitable for baking’ on the tub then it’s gone into a Vicky sponge.

My preferred filling is raspberry jam (home made) as the WI insist (the seeds help keep the cakes sandwiched apparently), but I find it lacks something on its own, so I always sandwich it along with buttercream to round it off.  The cake in the photos I admit was sandwiched with bought jam…sorry!

Normally my standard formula is salted butter and caster sugar, but I’ve had to change things a bit, especially lately in more budget conscious times – this is the point of this post – and, don’t tell your local WI – but granulated sugar still makes a cracking light sponge! Only the pickiest, most petty judge would be able to tell the difference. Butter is superior in flavour (I don’t put vanilla in my sponge) but as I mentioned in the chocolate cake post, Waitrose’s essential sunflower spread, reasonably priced at £1 a tub, works just as well (it’s also cheaper than, and tastes better than Stork) – though any spread that’s marked as suitable for baking will do. It makes an inferior buttercream but as you only need a small amount for sandwiching, don’t bother getting extra butter just for that.

I also recommend for quickness, the all-in-one method also favoured by Mary Berry. A whisk and a bowl is fine.

Budget Victoria Sandwich

 

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Cake:

4 eggs, weighed in their shells.

Same weight of:
Spread/margarine – must have ‘suitable for baking’ on the tub.
Granulated sugar
Self-raising flour

2 LEVEL tsp baking powder

2-4 tbsp water

Filling:

Raspberry jam (shop bought or homemade)

Buttercream (You can go by eye, but I’d say 1 part marg to 3 parts icing sugar)

Jam (if using homemade):

200g frozen raspberries
250g jam sugar/granulated sugar with the juice of 1/2 a lemon added for the pectin

 

  1. Preheat oven to 180C/160C fan and grease two 8in/20cm sandwich tins with the bases lined with parchment.
  2. In a bowl combine all the ingredients and beat with a whisk (you don’t need electricity here) until combined and smooth – dropping consistency is what you want (hence the water). Don’t overdo it. If you want, you can do this in a food processor.
  3. Working quickly (the raising agents will start to act as soon as the batter is mixed) divide between the tins, spreading out evenly.
  4. Place in the oven and bake for 25 minutes (check at 20 just in case) until golden. When ready, the cakes should be coming away from the sides of the tins; the centre should spring back when pushed lightly, and a tester inserted should come out clean.
  5. If you’re making your own jam (and awesome if you are), now’s the time to do it. In a heavy based saucepan, tip in the raspberries and place over a medium heat to begin thawing out. As soon as they are thawed, add the sugar (and lemon juice if using normal granulated), stir to begin dissolving and turn up the heat, bringing to the boil. Once boiling, leave at a rollicking boil for 4 minutes exactly before tipping into a shallow dish (any ovenproof ‘lasagne dish’ is perfect here) to cool and set.
  6. Place the cakes, still in their tins on a wire rack and cool for 5 minutes exactly.
  7. After this 5 minutes, slide a regular knife around the edges to loosen and remove the cakes from the tins onto the wire rack and leave to cool completely.
    TIP: If you are entering the village show, unmould the cakes carefully onto a clean tea towel before placing on the rack the ‘right’ side up to avoid those GHASTLY rack marks!
  8. Make the buttercream. When not using real butter, I just go by eye and beat a small amount of margarine with icing sugar until I get a spreadable consistency – taste for sweetness. if you have any vanilla knocking about, add a dash.
  9. When the cakes are cooled, pick the less good-looking one of the two and place it face-down on a plate or stand (doily optional) before spreading the flat side now facing up with jam. How much you spread is up to you but remember it’ll squidge out the sides if you’re too heavy handed once you sandwich.
  10. On the other cake, spread the underside with the buttercream. I wouldn’t be too heavy with this as you want it to complement the jam without it being too sickly. Place carefully on top of the jam-spread cake to sandwich.
  11. For a finishing touch, sprinkle with granulated sugar (not icing, sorry. I go with the WI again here and I think it looks better), stick the kettle on and dive in. Keep covered in cling to prevent it going stale.

Pleasure On A Budget: Dark And Sumptuous Chocolate Cake (sadly not vegan)

First of all, let me address the glamorous goddess in the room. This is obviously not my recipe and nor will I pretend it is. I’m publishing this to make a point (and shut up haters). To borrow from Dwayne The Rock Johnson…it doesn’t matter how cheap your ingredients are!

As Jack Monroe has always stated, the ingredients to any recipe are mere building blocks. It’s what you do with them that counts. So whether you got them from Waitrose 1, Tesco Value, or your local corner shop, you can be confident that you’ll still arrive at the same result if the recipe is good.

And this enchanting, confounding, deeply pleasurable cake from Queen Nigella can be made either with top-tier organic range….or entirely of value ingredients. I’ve tried it many ways and I can assure you it is ALWAYS nothing less than sumptuously good and worthy of its title – far greater than the sum of its parts.

I was keen to see just how much I could ‘cheapen’ this cake to fit my sadly stricter budget these days and not feel like it was compromised. It hasn’t at all. Because I’ve made a few changes I wondered if it was worth posting…I feel it is, though of course I have linked the original recipe to show that I never intended to plagiarise.

The icing I wondered if it would turn out sickly because of the lower percentage of cocoa solids in the chocolate but I find that budget-brand plain chocolate is a dark horse in cooking. It’s produced in France (Tesco) and Germany (Sainsbury’s) and the continentals know a thing or two about making good chocolate. Cocoa solids are a mere 45% (compared the 70% usually recommended in cakes like this) and it does contain whey, but for the tiny price tag it snaps nicely and has a good sheen, and I’ve always found it easy to cook with and never tastes nasty, synthetic or cheap. So it may be 45p a bar but all you’ve paid for is the chocolate and who cares about the ugly wrapper? It may be sweeter than 70% solids but that’s countered by the welcome bitter edge brought by the instant coffee and the cocoa powder and the margarine contains salt anyway so really…it’s just a slightly different formula that results in an identical taste.

I find that the icing made with these particular ingredients goes very thick but that’s not a hardship – for my clumsy self it made it far easier to spread and it sets beautifully. I’m not bothered about mirror glaze finishes. I bake cakes for taste.

I do recommend sticking with Nigella’s stated dark brown soft sugar as I find it’s not a bank breaker but I’m sure if you’ve only got the granulated white stuff to hand, there’s more than enough flavour given by the cocoa and coffee in the cake itself too. And as for the vinegar needed to help the cake rise – it’s such a tiny amount that you can use regular malt, distilled even. That’s the beauty of this recipe. So I’m not trying to pass off this as my own. I’m just saying what I did and proving that Nigella’s haters have yet another of their pathetic arguments nulled and voided – this is not an expensive cake and Aldi and Lidl will stock everything you need.

As for the topping – she says use whatever your heart desires. I topped mine with freeze-dried raspberries and freeze-dried tangerine powder as I happened to have those int he cupboard from more prosperous times. Use what’s to hand and within your budget. Or leave it plain.

Dark And Sumptuous Chocolate Cake On A Budget

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Cake:

  • 225g plain flour
  • 1.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp fine salt
  • 1½ tsp instant coffee granules
  • 75g cocoa powder
  • 300g soft dark brown sugar (I tend to have this in but I’m sure granulated would be fine here)
  • 375ml hot water – from a recently boiled kettle
  • 6 tbsp (90ml) vegetable oil
  • 1½ tsp vinegar (even clear distilled is fine)

Icing:

  • 60 ml/4 tbsp cold water
  • 75g margarine (I used essential Waitrose sunflower spread which also makes a fabulously light Victoria sandwich and only £1 a tub)
  • 50g dark brown sugar
  • 1½ tsp instant coffee granules
  • 1½ tbsp cocoa
  • 150g plain chocolate, broken into pieces

You will  also need a 20cm/8in round springform cake tin, lined with greaseproof and lightly greased.

  1. Start with the icing, though first preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 and pop in a baking sheet at the same time.
  2. To make the icing, put all the ingredients bar the chocolate into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir to make sure it’s all dissolved together before turning off the heat and adding the broken chocolate. Swirl the pan to make sure it’s submerged; leave for a minute before whisking until glossy and smooth. Set aside.
  3. Put the dry ingredients – flour, bicarb, salt and cocoa in a bowl and fork to mix.
  4. Dissolve the instant coffee granules in the water, before mixing in the sugar, vegetable oil and vinegar.
  5. This cake is literally wet-into-dry – once the wet’s all mixed (ensure the oil isn’t floating on the top), tip into the dry ingredients and whisk just until combined and there’s no lumps, then pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35 minutes. Though ovens do vary – do check at the 30-minute mark to see if it is already done – but you may need to bake for an additional 10 minutes as well.
  6. When it’s ready, the cake will be coming away from the edges of the tin and a cake tester will come out clean, apart from a few crumbs. This is a fudgy cake and you don’t want to overdo it – chocolate cake can take being slightly underdone and squidge is desirable here.
  7. Once the cake is cooked, transfer the tin to a wire rack and let the cake cool in its tin.
  8. When the cake is cooled, unspring from the tin and place on a stand or plate. Stir the icing in case it’s really thick and then spread with rapturous joy over the cake. I found it to have the exact consistency of buttercream frosting when made with these ingredients so just frost away.
  9. If you want to decorate it, just sprinkle with whatever your heart desires and then leave to set before slicing.

Vegan and sugar free : Chocolate Coconut Brownies

I have been meaning to publish this recipe for a while now, as the source I obtained it from back in 2012 (an American granola girl mom blogger whose name I’m sorry to say long forgotten) has seemed to have vanished into the ethers.

I felt with all the talks of sugar tax (please, for your own sanity do NOT start me off on why this is wrong) that publishing a recipe that contains zero of the evil white stuff was rather timely….actually….I’m doing so because these are FREAKING GOOD. They are deeply, darkly resonant with chocolate without children’s party sweetness, and are as squidgy, and fudgy as even the most butter-laden slabs of decadence.  And most importantly of all, they do not feel like a compromise. You can happily serve these to the most committed animal product eater and their mind will be blown. Their intense fudginess also means they can be served as a pudding too.

Plus, all the plant-derived ingredients and use of wholemeal flour makes you feel like these are SO healthy….it does use one whole bottle of agave syrup though, I am sorry.

You can use any dairy free milk you can find, though obviously please check whomever you’re serving it to isn’t allergic to nuts or soya first. With the coffee, I happily use instant as it’s added in liquid form and just make it strong, but you can use leftovers in your cafetiere; espresso…whatever you want. Don’t leave it out – , they don’t taste of coffee -it is crucial for enhancing the chocolate flavour as of course there is no melted chocolate in these.

You can use an 8×8 or small roasting tin to bake these in. Just keep an eye on the cooking time as you do not want these to dry out and they don’t take long to bake.

Due to the recipe’s Stateside origin, this is in US cup measures. But you can obtain all the ingredients from any large supermarket without needing to go to Holland and Barrett. I do apologise for the irregular changing of measures in my recipes – some are in imperial, others metric – I’m well aware of this!

I tend to only make these once a year – a close friend is a vegan, and these have become my annual birthday present to her as some kind of tradition. Their making signals the end of summer and the start of my autumn-Christmas baking calendar. But please don’t let that stop you from making them whenever you desire.

Chocolate Coconut Brownies

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1/3 cup coconut oil

1 cup agave syrup (about 1 bottle)

1/2 cup coconut milk (not the canned stuff but the carton e.g Koko or Alpro) or any dairy free milk alternative

1/3 cup strong coffee

1 cup cocoa powder (raw if you really want to be good but it’ll cost you)

1/2 cup desiccated coconut

3/4 cup wholemeal flour

1/2 tsp salt

  1. Preheat oven to 180C/170C fan, and grease and line your chosen tin with parchment for easy lifting out later.
  2. In a bowl, combine flour, cocoa, coconut and salt. Fork or whisk to mix and set aside.
  3. In another bowl, beat the coconut oil and agave syrup until combined – this is easy enough by hand and a wooden spoon. Beat in the coconut milk and the coffee. It may split and curdle but don’t freak out if it does.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet and stir until just combined – don’t over mix it. It will make a fairly thin batter but that’s fine – it’s what makes the brownies so fudgy.
  5. Pour batter into the tin and bake for 16-18 minutes. Ovens do vary so it’s recommended you start with the shortest time as you don’t want to overcook them.
  6. Leave to cool completely in the tin before lifting out and cutting into. They’re surprisingly rich so small squares is fine….plus you get more brownies. And if I’m saying that……….

 

Ginger Loaf

Cold. Wet. Dark early. Are we really in August?

Seeing as the weather is much more reminiscent of late autumn/winter than summer, it’s only natural to gravitate towards unseasonable food to accompany said weather. In my world, at any rate.

You’ll know by now that gingerbread in its many forms has a huge hold on my heart. I’m too aware I have been in this territory before (the Yorkshire Parkin and the regular slab-style gingerbread I created in 2015) but if my cookbook collection is anything to go by, there’s infinite ways to bring sugar and spice together in pleasurably sticky harmony.

This is gingerbread as I like it – heady with black treacle, which has the bitter sweetness of burnt toffee, and packing a fierce hit of peppery ginger. Preferably left at least a day before eating as it only gets stickier.

I can’t take the credit for the recipe though – it comes from the Domestic Princess and is an adaptation of her fantastic (and pretty damn accurate reproduction) recipe for McVitie’s Golden Syrup Cake, itself a guilty pleasure of mine and one of the few mass-produced cakes I have no shame in buying, along with it’s Jamaican Ginger sister – which, I suppose you could say, I was aiming for with this.

This also has the added bonus of being easily veganised – just substitute the butter and milk for non-dairy versions, and it of course contains no eggs. If you wanted to be ambitious you could use gluten free plain flour too.

Ginger Loaf

 

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75g soft dark brown (or even better, dark muscovado) sugar

75g softened salted butter (or vegan margarine)

150g black treacle

75ml water

75ml milk (or dairy free equivalent)

200g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 160C, and grease and line a 1lb loaf tin.
  2. In a bowl, combine the flour with the bicarb, baking powder, ginger and cinnamon and whisk or fork to mix.
  3. In either a free-standing mixer or in a bowl with a hand whisk, cream together the butter and sugar until you have a manila-toned cream- if using dark muscovado the sugar will always have a slight bit of grit to it.
  4. Place the milk and water into a saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat.
  5. Once boiled, and with the motor still running on the mixer, carefully pour the hot milk/water mixture into the creamed butter and sugar, followed by the treacle, scraping the sides of the bowl if necessary. This is very liquid, so don’t panic! Also be careful of splashes.
  6. Add in the dry ingredients and continue until combined, being careful not to over mix and once more scraping the sides of the bowl.
  7. Pour the mixture into the lined tin and bake for 40-45 minutes. Check after 40 though as ovens do vary – a tester should come out clean.
  8. Once the cake is cooked, leave to cool completely in its tin on a cooling rack.
  9. If you can bear to resist, leave for a day at least before cutting as the stickier the better.

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Cut, and come again: Boiled Fruit Cake

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Now the leaves are brown, the skies are grey, the nights have truly drawn in and there is a sharp chill in the air, we want food that’s familiar, comforting and warming. Think casseroles with dumplings. Curries. Lentil soups that stick to your ribs and hug from within.

But baking is a crucial part of autumn and winter for me. And nothing to me says Great British winter than a proper old-fashioned fruit cake. The kind your grandma would always have on hand, stashed in an ancient biscuit tin, ready at any given moment to be enjoyed with a cup of tea.

I used to loathe fruit cake (as I probably stated in my Christmas cake recipe and my malt loaf recipe), hot cross buns, anything baked with raisins in, but yet I’d eat them on cereal. Now as an adult, some of my favourite cakes are of the fruited variety. I love mince pies, Christmas pudding, tea cakes…you name it.

Speaking of the festive season, one of the things I most enjoy in the run-up, is making my Christmas cake. And it struck me. Why should I wait once a year to enjoy the dense, spicy, brown wedge of Britishness, loaded with plump fruits and making you feel like the world is a better place? Why can’t I make it whenever I want? I mean, mid-July perhaps no, but we won’t see a sniff of sun until March at least from now.

Boiled fruit cake, to those unfamiliar, I admit sounds gross and unappetising. But it is merely a fast way of getting extra moisture into something that if done badly, can be something desiccated with wrinkled currants in it that’s so inedible you may as well chew on loft insulation. The wonderful Candice Brown (take your hate elsewhere please) baked one during one of the showstopper challenges, and even more heartwarmingly, she used her grandmother’s recipe.

So boiled? Cake? Simple. Instead of creaming your butter and sugar, and soaking your fruit in tea or alcohol, all the ingredients except the eggs and flour are placed in one pan and simmered for about fifteen minutes, before said eggs and flour are added after it has had a chance to cool, and then baked in the normal way in the correctly-lined tin.

I was inspired by Candice a little here, as well as looking back in my own past. My great-grandma on mom’s side, whom I never met as she passed away before I was born, was keen on making a boiled fruit cake, but my late nan, to my knowledge, never made one. The recipe I am using does have good legacy, as it is my mother’s (and mine) Christmas cake recipe, already published here, halved for a smaller tin (in this case a 20cm springform, lined in the usual manner to insulate the cake).

The weights and measures are in ounces, because I find this simpler to scale up or down and I like to think it adds to the old traditonal feel of the recipe!

I just go for the pre-mixed bag of dried fruit for this, but you can use any combo of dried fruit that takes your fancy; cranberries would be great, dried cherries, dried blueberries, the sky’s the limit. I know candied peel is the marmite of the baking world and has many, many haters, I used to hate it until very recently, so feel free to avoid. I will say this though  – the toffee sweetness of dates isn’t recommended as they just melt down in the heat and make your mixture too sticky. You’re probably also recoiling at the use of prunes but they do help with the squidgyness of the cake; however you can of course just sub them with more dried fruit of your choice, or even some chopped nuts. I always think there’s room for flexibility in cooking.

Alcohol brings that festive decadence to the proceedings as well as the all-important liquid element – I used brandy, mixed with a small amount of black-as-tar, raisiny Pedro Ximinez sherry that Nigella Lawson is a huge fan of (honestly, try it. It’s a good investment!), but again, use what you like. Ginger wine would be good, and obviously dark rum too. Becherovka as well, if you can find it…like the fruit, this is where you can make it your own.

If you don’t want to go the full on hard liquor route, then an absolutely dandy alternative would be stout, ale, or of course, porter, to make that Irish classic, porter cake.

You could of course, use black tea instead of the alcohol, and bump up the flour to 8 oz to save a bit of cash if you like.This is essentially a Christmas cake in all but name really, but if you can’t justify bunging a load of booze in, or you’re reading this when it’s not the festive season, just go for the aforementioned tea and leave out the almonds. Just make sure you have 8 fl oz of liquid.

This is a soft, squidgy cake that will banish any memories of granny’s aged and dry cake or bad shop-bought versions. And if you are using this as your festive cake, then it means you can make it at the last minute as the pan does months of steeping work in just 10-15 minutes.

Boiled Fruit Cake

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6oz plain flour
2 oz ground almonds (or use 8 oz plain flour)
4 oz butter (I recommend salted)
4 oz dark brown soft sugar
1 tbsp black treacle
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
ground nutmeg to taste
9 oz mixed dried fruit
3 oz prunes, roughly halved or cut into three if they’re big
2 oz glace cherries, halved
8 fl oz brandy, or a mixture of brandy and Pedro Ximinez, or stout/ale/porter, or black tea
1 orange, zest and juice
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp almond extract

OPTIONAL: 1 tbsp each of orange flower and rose water.

  1. Preheat oven to 150C.
  2. Put butter, sugar, treacle, honey, spices, orange zest and juice, along with the fruit into a saucepan, before pouring over the alcohol/tea and flower waters if using. Essentially every ingredient bar the flour, almonds and eggs.
  3. Bring to the boil, stirring to prevent catching and to help melt down the butter. When it is boiling, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let stand for 30 minutes.
  4. Whilst the fruit mix is standing, use this time to line the tin. For those who don’t know, you grease the tin and place a disc of parchment in the bottom as for a regular sponge cake, but in addition, you need to cut a length of baking parchment long enough to fit the entire diameter of the tin, around the height of the tin doubled – this helps to insulate the cake when it cooks – and wrap this around the inside, snipping cuts in the bottom to help it sit around the edge easier. If it sounds like I’m talking rubbish, then just google!
  5. When the fruit mix has had its stand time, mix in the beaten eggs before finally adding the flour and almonds, stirring until combined but being careful not to over mix.
  6. Pour this treacly batter into the prepare tin and bake for 1 and a half hours, or until a tester comes out clean. Or you could follow Fanny Cradock’s advice and listen to it – if it’s singing at you, it’s not ready yet.
  7. Leave to cool in the tin either completely or mostly and then finish on a wire rack.
  8. Store in an airtight container and enjoy with a brew, or if this is your Christmas cake (which I realise this recipe sounds uncannily like), pierce and feed with alcohol, wrapping up and repeating this until ready to ice in your preferred manner.

 

 

 

Bake Off Technical – The Final; Victoria Sandwich

Here it is. At long last, the final.

The final of 2016.

The final technical experience for me.

And the final of Bake Off as we know.

And adorable flamboyant wee queen Andrew was in shorts…..ooops wrong place. I do want to take him home though. Camp. Irish. Ginger. Great smile…. Anyway….I had already managed to read spoilers because it turns out no matter what I do, they seem to find me, but still I wanted to watch it. I was chuffed Candice won. I loved her and how she used her grandmother’s recipes. Many people use their own legacy in their cooking. I do! Why was it a bad thing? Why did people get so pissed off over it? Oh that’s right, it’s 2016 and being offended is a legitimate profession now.

But anyway, what was this technical? I’d heard that it was something I’ve done before, and that I’d get on OK.

So when it was announced as a Victoria sandwich. I was THRILLED. No, seriously. No more French classics for me to butcher. No more caramel. No fancy decorations. Just a good old-fashioned British old lady cake to have with a brew. YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAS.

The bakers had to do theirs without a recipe, and were even given choices of sugar, as well as both margarine and butter, and had to decide what they felt would make the most perfect example of the village fete classic. All bakers plumped for butter, Candice I noted went for golden caster sugar too because of its slight toffee flavour (which I must try sometime).

Having made a few of these myself over the years, I knew that to get a technically perfect sponge, you weigh your eggs in their shells, and for a 20cm sandwich tin (which is what I have), 4 eggs is what you need – and the fat, sugar and self-raising flour are to be this weight. So electronic scales are the order of the day if the stakes are massive.

However. I have a bone to pick with Mary. She clearly went for the WI-standard, citing raspberry jam (which had to be home made -the same 200g berries/250g jam sugar method from the Viennese and the Bakewell – that’s fine by me as I’d already bought some fresh raspberries for the savarin, dirt cheap from Waitrose and never used them -they were on the turn and I refused to bin them…they were still fine to eat) as the filling and caster sugar (NOT ICING) as the topping. But….the WI specifically state NO BUTTERCREAM. Come on Mary. You are the walking embodiment of jolly-hockey-sticks Middle England and Jerusalem. I expected better from you. But as I was doing what the bakers do, I had to make it!

Also as the bakers did, I opted to go all-in-one as Mary is a known lover of this method (and plus less washing up as no Kenwood bowl and attachments to clean!), though when I looked in the fridge the day before, I took stock …no Stork, but I had about 360g of salted butter. I debated going to the shops to buy a tub of margarine as it makes a lighter cake but butter is superior in flavour (and honestly…try salted over unsalted. It doesn’t make your bakes salty. I took this from a colleague who makes the most fantastic, unrivalled shortbread – the best I’ve ever had – and she always uses salted. I’ve not had a bad bake, be it a cake or biscuit, by substituting salted for unsalted. In fact the hint of salt adds complexity to the tidal wave of sweetness so actually improves the finished bake!)…what the hell, save myself a few pence and use what I had (though I did need more self-raising flour, it turned out. Never mind. Butter tastes better and as I can’t hide the margarine’s inferior flavour with vanilla – it had to be that.

The cake mix took a little slackening with milk (clearly should have softened the butter some more in the microwave) but eventually the soft dropping consistency was reached without too much mixing and divided between the tins. I’m afraid I went by eye as I just found weighing it into the tins a waste of time (and also, I wanted it in the oven as fast as possible, as raising agents begin their work the moment liquid is added so the sooner the better) but it looked fairly even. Into the oven they went, 160 as mine is a fan, for 25 minutes. I wasn’t going to take any chances. I wanted to prove to myself that I could still do the simple bakes and do them competently.

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There really isn’t a lot to say about this. I knew the jam recipe well enough and did the usual, obviously with less time to thaw the berries as I wasn’t using frozen. Into a flat dish it went to set – you can use good quality stuff from a bought jar, but 25 minutes is ample time to knock some up in a saucepan, and anyway…home made always tastes better. By the time the cakes had cooled sufficiently, so would the jam. I found out online that the reason the WI specify raspberry jam, is that the seeds help the two cakes stay sandwiched. You learn something new every day.

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I went to weigh out my icing sugar, and to my dismay, I only had 176g instead of the 200g needed. Damn. Rather than dash down the road, I just decided to calculate the percentage of 200 it was, and then use the same for butter. 176 is 88% of 200. So 88g of butter was needed for the buttercream. Out came the Kenwood (I think electricity makes better buttercream than elbow grease – trust me, I’ve done it both ways) and I just threw it all in. Keeping an eye on the consistency, I sloshed in some milk because I wanted it slack enough to not fly into a homicidal rage when it came to the devil’s favourite implement, the piping bag. I was still going to pipe the outside because I wanted to match the bakers as close as possible.

 

Cakes were ready bang on 25 minutes. They sprung back, passed the skewer test, looked well risen (albeit domed a bit – I forgot to make a dip in the centre to allow for a flat, even surface. Bugger.) and not too dark in colour.  I left them to cool in their tins for exactly 5 minutes, before carefully turning out onto a tea towel (to avoid unsightly rack marks) and placed flat-side down to cool completely.

Once the cakes were cooled, it was time to spread with a generous amount of jam, thankfully not a solid brick, and then pipe on the buttercream. I piped globules around the outside, but because I didn’t have the full amount, I just filled the centre solidly, spreading with a knife but leaving the outer edge as piped globs so it looked more presentable on the outside. I chose the cake on the right as the top one, and once they were sandwiched, I sprinkled with the correct topping as set by the WI, caster sugar.

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There may be a few imperfections here and there, but I was chuffed with it. It didn’t look overbaked or biscuity, the piping on the outside was mostly competent. But it’s home-made, not a competition entry or a factory produced one, so I allowed for that. It was just for us, at home, to enjoy with a brew.

And enjoy we did. Everyone who had it, rated it highly, and I had more than anyone else because frankly, I have forgotten just how delicious this classic simple cake is. With the fresh fruitiness of the home made jam, to the welcome if not WI-correct hit of sweet buttercream (I would take it over fresh cream because that means you have to chill it and that spoils the sponge), to the light, moist golden cake itself. Considering it was butter, not margarine, and it took a good beating to get smooth in the mixing stage, I was terrified it would be tough. My regret? Not splashing out on some top quality butter, opting for Waitrose’s essential salted stuff because it was the best value. When the ingredients are stripped back to the bare bones like this, it’s good to spend a bit more. I’m happy to use standard white caster sugar as you want that buttery flavour to be the star of the show, though I’m sure the frisson of toffee from golden caster would be most welcome too.

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There were a few incidences where I had two slices a day. I will not leave it this long again to bash out a Victoria sandwich. 

Will make again. In a heartbeat. Every day if I could. You can keep your cupcakes and your decadent chocolate sin-fests. Give me a Victoria sponge or tea loaf anyday.

Join me next time when I do a final rating of every technical of 2016!

T x